I posted a comment on Facebook earlier in the week that was somewhat cryptic by design – I didn’t really want the comment to ripen into a retelling of an old and sad story. I posted it in a moment of pique at the propensity of some to keep bringing up unpleasant moments for all to read. Those impacted by such will take their grief to their graves; the rest of us, essentially unable to do much to assuage their feelings, look past the articles. Then, I realized that I was guilty of doing the same thing, bringing up a sad story that’s been in the books for 60 years. The post served no purpose. I write of happy things. If I don’t, which I occasionally don’t, I make no bones about it and it’s usually crystal-clear who’s in my crosshairs. But this post was unnecessarily acrimonious, so I pulled it.
I’ve lived in this burg, so far, three-fourths of a century; was blessed with a steel-trap memory and the ability to ferret facts from a variety of sources. In 35 years of writing about our town I have received, three or four times a year, “tips” from well-meaning quasi-sources to the effect of, “Hey, there’s a great story for you about a shoot-‘em-up in a motel ‘way out west (which may be offered by the tipster as east, north or south) of town, back in the 1960s (which may be ‘70s or ‘50s) and the guy took a couple sheriff’s deputies with him (which he didn’t).” Or, ” You ought to write about the gang fight (which it wasn’t) in Paradise Park (where it wasn’t either) and a judge’s son was killed (a lad was hurt, yes, but no relation to a judge).” The case in point, the topic of that comment on Facebook that I made and subsequntly pulled, was of another tip I’m offered semi-annually: “Why haven’t you ever written a column about the mother (sometimes the maid or the babysitter) who shot her three (four, seven, or more) children in the fancy house on Larue (occasionally Manor or Marsh or Sharon or Nixon or St. Lawrence) and the husband came home and found them (which he didn’t).”
The tipsters for these stories, and there are others but the three cited are the most-often suggested, are on the right track, but a mile off the facts. Sheriff deputies and Reno police reënacted the OK Corral and shot up a motel west of town, ventilating several of Wilbur May’s Modigliani paintings and fatally injuring one local man. Another was the mother of all fistfights waged by some scions of local swells, resulting in one youth being in a coma for many months and eventually passing away, too young.
I know what tale the tipsters are getting at, and have copies of the police reports and the newspaper accounts. But never wrote about them. Managing the news is not a recent trend; I think the Reno Evening Gazette and the Nevada State Journal cut a few parties a little slack, particularly in the fistfight reportage, given the involvement of some well-known local parents.
From Day One there have been for me, two litmus tests that an event must pass favorably to go into print with my byline: Does a retelling do any good? Sometimes, sometimes not; many of our better yarns are based on actual occurrences, and assuming that if they hold the fabric of our local heritage together, they have some value. The travails of LaVere Redfield or George Wingfield make good reading so we’ll give them a “pass” on the first litmus test. I’m not sure the three occurrences cited first above would pass that test.
The second test is, does the retelling of the story hurt anyone? Here, the three events fail miserably. In the cases of the police action at the motel and the fistfight, there walk among us a number of people who have some sad or bitter memories of each, and don’t need to be reminded for all to read as being the family of those involved. The third case – the one I used in my comment last week regarding the deaths of the children – happened in a home and no purpose whatsoever would be served in facilitating the identification of the address. Neither the people who own the home now, 60+ years later, nor their neighbors, need this story coming out of the barn. It’s not a tragedy that’s unfamiliar to many longer-term local folks but shan’t be resurrected by this writer. I have some knowledge of each one, from police reports I secured and the local papers, which tangled up a couple of elements of the stories. And any student of Reno High at the time remembers the commotion taking place a few blocks from our school for the latter one.
And as bad luck would have it, my dad, a real estate man, sold the house several months after the event. Twenty years ago the topic hit the spotlight, when there was a hue-and-cry ongoing about whether State real estate licensees were obligated to advise potential purchasers of such events occurring in a listed home. I’ll let the reader ask his or her Realtor© about that.
So there you have it – an encapsulation of self-induced standards that I’ve wanted to convey many times in bygone days, after people “suggest” these three topics. Or in one case, flabbergasted me by asking me to speak at a service club about one of these three, as if tragedy is the fare of a luncheon meeting. And there are a few other urban legends arising less often, and some that I know of that are downright hilarious – but the hilarity is borne upon an occurrence that might offend a surviving relative, so they’re topics I’ll leave alone.
The sum and substance of all this is that friends come to this website for enjoyment, and that’s what it shall remain!